Watercolor Graffiti Chocolate Cake

Today's post is extra special because I have some exciting news. My friend and fellow baker Rosie Alyea of Sweetapolita is releasing her first cookbook - The Sweetapolita Bakebook! I recieved an advance copy a few weeks ago and I've been paging through it ever since. It is utterly gorgeous! I feel so honored to be one of the first people to get to bake from it.

One of my favorite cakes in the book is the Watercolor Graffiti Cake. The aesthetic struck me immediately, and the painting-on-fondant technique is something I'm comfortable with. I just had to make it.

The book version of the cake is three tiers tall, which is a little more cake than we can consume in a timely manner (even with give-aways to family and friends) so I opted for a smaller version.

You know you're obsessed with cake when you decorate cake with a slice of cake!

To get started, you'll need a fondant-covered cake. I used Rosie's Chocolate Butter Cake recipe, and you can find it at the end of this post. If you need help learning how to cover a cake with fondant, Rosie's book has an excellent guide. In the interim, you may find this guide from Wilton helpful.

The painting technique isn't difficult at all - no special art skills required! You'll need a few different hues of gel food color, a couple of sponge stipplers, and clear vanilla extract or vodka.

Each food color is diluted with a little clear extract or vodka and then painted on with a stippler brush. Overlapping the colors will create a beautiful watercolor effect. I pressed a paper towel over the painted surface to give it a faint texture - so pretty!

I used magenta, turquoise and purple from this set of Wilton gel colors.

The gold leaf  really pops on the cake's painted surface. You can find it for purchase here, or you may use gold luster dust diluted in vodka. The latter creates a gold paint that you can brush or spatter over the cake's surface.

We really loved the flavor of the chocolate butter cake. It was almost like eating layers of soft fudge brownies. Be sure to have a tall glass of milk handy!

If you're an avid baker, or just someone who loves to look at beautiful desserts, then I urge you to pick up a copy of Rosie's book. It's filled with plenty of eye candy and it's a great resource for bakers.

Be sure to check out the awesome giveaway on Sweetapolita now!

Chocolate Butter Cake
Yields three 8-inch layers
Author: Rosie Alyea, The Sweetapolita Bakebook

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Dutch process dark cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 cup hot coffee
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup mayonnaise, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Grease the bottoms of three 8x2-inch round cake pans and line with parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. In a large measuring glass with a spout, combine the buttermilk and coffee. Set aside.

I the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and using a rubber spatula, fold in one-third of the flour mixture until just combined. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and fold until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk mixtures. Fold in the mayonnaise.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and vinegar, and quickly fold into the batter. Don’t over-mix. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans.

Bake the first two layers in the center of the oven until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs, 20 to25 minutes. Repeat with the final layer. Let the cake layers cool in their pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Using a knife, loosen the sides of the cakes and carefully turn them out onto wire racks. Peel off the papers and let cool completely.

The cake layers will keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days.

link Watercolor Graffiti Chocolate Cake By Published: Watercolor Graffiti Chocolate Cake Recipe


  1. This looks wonderful :)


  2. Your blog is amazing, congratulations ! And this cake looks crazy (in a good way), definitely adding your blog to my blogroll so more people can enjoy your amazing blog!

  3. Holy cow that is gorgeous! I will have to check out that cookbook ASAP :)

  4. Looks gorgeous, I only wish there was a metric conversion of the recipe.

  5. Hi julianne,

    We are currently working on a conversions page for this site (hooray!). In the meantime, I find this page from Joy of Baking helpful, perhaps you could use it as a guide too.



  6. Wow, FYI you're amazing! This is the first time I've ever been to your blog and its just beautiful. Congrats on being awesome.

  7. Thanks Heather, I've printed the page out ready to convert and try the recipe.

  8. I'm sorry, but could someone please explain to me what fondant in this recipe is? Is it just simple frosting made of powder sugar, jelly, glucose and water? I came across this expression only in reference to a chocolate dessert.
    Thank you very much for any answers :)

  9. Hi Msz!

    I should have clarified, as there are many different kinds of fondant (poured, rolled, marshmallow, etc.). The fondant used on the cake is ready-made rolled fondant. I used Satin Ice brand (white vanilla flavor), and it is sold in 1, 2, 5, and 25 lb. resealable tubs. You can find it for purchase online and in cake specialty shops. You can read more about it at the link following:


    Thanks for asking, and I hope this helps!


  10. Hi Heather and thank you ;)

    Satin Ice is unfortunately not available in my country (and shipping from US unfortunately doubles the price). But I think I got the point, and I would have to do some experiments as our products have a bit different ingredients. I hope I'll manage to achieve this beautiful effect you've created.

    Lots of love for Easter time!

  11. Out of curiosity, how did you scale the recipe to make less? Halve it? Something else? And then what size pans? 3 8 inch layers is a lot when it is not a special occasion :)

  12. Hi Alyssa!

    The original cake in Rosie's book called for "3 recipes" chocolate butter cake, which serves 35 people. I just made 1 recipe (as written in the above post) and divided it between four 7-inch pans. I agree, it is a lot of cake! We still have some in the freezer.

    I hope this answers your question - thanks for asking!

  13. I need to buy some unsweetened cocoa...i bought some hershey's dutch processed special dark cocoa... is that the same???
    It says that it can be a substitute for recipes calling for unsweetened cocoa or baking chocolate.


  14. Wow this cake looks incredible! Nice work :)

  15. It's so weird and beautiful! I'm amazed!

  16. This cake looks gorgeous! And very artsy I must say. And chocolate butter cake is really delicious. This cake is an art perfected!

  17. hi Mauren! you are absolutely right

  18. Hi, I was wondering what cream/frosting or what you used between the cake layers, or if you had suggestions for different flavors or fillings that might pair well with this cake recipe.


    1. Hi Tonia!

      I used a vanilla buttercream made with confectioners' sugar, unsalted butter and vanilla extract. There are all kinds of great yummy fillings you could use for this cake - raspberry preserves, peanut butter buttercream, cream cheese frosting (yum!) - it's really a great little all-purpose chocolate cake recipe.

  19. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous cake. I love the watercolour look.

  20. can we just use a normal food colouring?
    and what can i use to apply the colour if i cant find the stippler brush?

    1. Hi Jeanne,

      Thanks for you questions! By 'normal' do you mean liquid food color? If so, then no. I wouldn't recommend it. I mean, you could try using it but the color would not be as concentrated, and the watery liquid may cause the fondant to break down. Gel food color is the way to go here. I recommend using natural sea sponges that can be found at the craft store in the painting section. Be sure the sponge is in unused (new) condition, and thoroughly wet it and wring it out completely before using as a paint tool. I hope this helps.

  21. Hi Great work! Did you do the paper towel effect before or after applying the food Colouring?

    1. Hi! Apply the paper towel after you apply the food coloring.

  22. Could I just use buttercream frosting instead of fondant and still achieve the same look? No one likes fondant!! :)

    1. Hi! I bet you could if you cover the cake in a high butter ratio buttercream. This would make the surface firm and you'd probably be able to paint on it.

      PS. I forgive you for not liking fondant. :)

    2. PPS. Be sure to chill the cake! Overnight is best.

  23. Hi Heather, HELP!
    I am using Satin Ice fondant the next day so it is dry. I am also using the same Wilton colour set as you have mixing with Wilton clear vanilla. After many attempts to achieve this finish I just get a stippled effect with the stipple brush (and tried sea sponges) using a small amount of vanilla essence, which doesnt look anything like your finish of smooth variation shades of colour. How did you achieve this? The colour appears to have soaked into your fondant. Did you immediately use paper towel or let it dry before blotting with paper towel? I tried adding more of the vanilla to the gel colour but the colour just lifts off with gooey peaks melting the fondant, and it is white underneath, not soaking in. My son has his heart set on this finish on two tiers of his four tier wedding cake in 4f weeks time. Do you let the fondant dry before painting? Where am I going wrong? I dont want a stipple finish. Thank you.

    1. Hi Melissa! I'm here to HELP! :)

      I stippled the paint on, and then using a finger I blended some of the paint into the fondant. I occasionally used a small piece of folded paper towel to blend and soften paint some edges. I never used very much vanilla extact, just drops to dilute the food color a bit. After the entire cake was painted I pressed a patterned paper towel into the surface and pulled it away.

      Try practicing the blending method on a scrap piece of fondant. I hope this helps!

  24. Thanks so much Heather for your immediate reply.
    Your suggestions really made a difference in the finish using a finger for blending. I used a small amount of extra clear vanilla in a dish to dip my finger into to assist with more blending, using small pieces of paper towel when necessary. I found that vodka instead of clear vanilla works just the same as you suggested. Before the colour dried, I built up a little more colour for variation. I will now just practice more on blending the colours and overlapping. My painted finish is similar to yours, without the textured paper towel finish.
    I am a little nervous about the wedding cakes being painted, but with practice before then, it will be what it will be on the day. I am happy with the finish on the dummy cake, and will now seek approval from the bride and groom to be! :)

  25. I'm so glad it made a difference in your end result! In hindsight, I could have been a little more descriptive with my instructions. Thank you for your question. Your comment will probably help someone else as well!

  26. Hello,
    I am making this cake for a birthday, and was wondering what ratio you used for the painting! I am using the same Wilton gel colors on Wilton fondant. Thanks!

  27. Also, did you let your fondant dry before painting? If so, how long? It would be great if I could know ASAP. Thanks so much, and what a beautiful cake!

    1. Hi! I did let the fondant dry a little bit before painting. It should feel dry and smooth before you add the color. The ratios were varied. I used two or three drops of extract added to 1/4 teaspoon food color for bold color, and up to a teaspoon for more diffuse color.

  28. Gorgeous cake, I love the beautiful finish! I have a quick question. I'm doing a Star Wars cake for my son's birthday, and I'm wanting a finish like this for the base of his cake. My question is will this effect work on black fondant? I was wanting to use yellow, blue, purple etc to get a "galaxy" look. Or would I be better off using white fondant and black etc gel colors? Thank you!


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